Arthur and I sat down to have a pretty wide-ranging conversation about his upcoming trip to Asia, what makes good events and much more.
Arthur: The idea behind why I assembled this gear was because I’m about to go on quite an extensive trip.
Cédric: Where are you headed to?
Arthur: Beginning with Dubai, a couple of weeks in India, then Singapore, possibly Australia or New Zealand – I usually find an excuse to go there; then, after that Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Shanghai. I might be in there as well. It could be quite extensive and who knows what opportunities are going to come up and for a kind of another trip or to extend the trip on the other side of that. When I think about how that fits into the year of travel, which involves the Web3 Summit and Devcon later in the year, which will put us, Devcon 4 being in Prague, that’s right next to Eastern Europe. As we’ll go through the air and that just leaves South America. So it could well be that this is quite a stint to travel we’re about and back on certainly myself but I know you travel a lot as well.
Cédric: For people watching that want to come to those events, are any of the events already published on our website or how would they find out where to meet you along this trip?
DFINITY Upcoming Events
Arthur: Well, there’s DFINITY.org if you go to community, there’s a list of upcoming events. There’ll be a whole bunch coming up over the next few days. Certainly India is going to be huge about a lot of those meetups. There’s the International Blockchain Congress, where DFINITY is sponsoring the hackathon. We’ve got Hashed in Soul and are also going to be in Beijing. We might also work with Wanxiang, who is a strategic partner in China. The sheer number of opportunities, it’s time to be with us. But, right now, with this particular setup so this camera is trained on you. As if I was to be interviewing you personally and the idea of the setup and what I’ve done in the past is predominantly podcasts that are interview-based. So as long as I’ve got you here, we may as well do a quick interview.
Cédric: Go for it.
First Exposure to Blockchain
Arthur: How did you first find yourself involved in blockchain?
Cédric: It was back in 2012. I was back then working at a company called SumUp in Berlin. There’s kind of the European Square. It’s a company that allows you to process credit card transactions from your phone. One of my co-workers ended up later joining the Ethereum team and then DFINITY. Gustaf. He used my laptop to mine bitcoins over lunch. That’s how I first heard of the decentralized world and got interested in it. We started talking about it and mining some stuff. It’s how it all started.
Arthur: So you started mining Bitcoin.
Cédric: Back then yes, but this was when you could still mine Bitcoin on your laptop. It’s a long time ago.
Arthur: It reminds me of mining Litecoin in 2013. I bought this massive rig to my Litecoin. I mined 20 Litecoins. The price when it was 30 cents and then, of course, had jumped for 50 bucks. I really could have changed the trajectory of my life about just buying Litecoins instead of mining. That’s pretty fascinating though. So that was way back in 2012.
Arthur: What did you do in the intervening years?
Cédric: In 2012 I was still working at this company SumUp; 2013 I started investing, and from 2013 till 2016 I was mainly investing in startups and board member. I was looking at a lot of blockchain companies for the first couple years. From 2013 to 2014 we couldn’t really find any companies that I’ve found investable at the time. So I ended up not spending too much time in the space and then 2016 is when I got in touch with Gustaf again, Dom and we started to work on setting up the DFINITY foundation and ended up working for DFINITY full-time.
Cédric: What is it about software engineering that you find interesting? There I think the creative problem-solving aspect of it, because usually the specs mean you know where you are usually that’s a blank slate or whatever existing code you’re taking over, and the specs tell you where you have to go and how things have to work in the end. Then I find it a very creative process to go from A to B in-between. I liked that challenging creative problem-solving process along the way.
Arthur: You find that rolls into your entrepreneurialism, investing?
Cédric: The way I invested after that was in companies, where I felt they had good software engineers. Then for some companies, I mean I officials had a board seat but sometimes I would even help them to fix bugs on their website and stuff like that. So I was very hands-on; it was more like a business angel.
Arthur: Do you feel, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, your history as a software engineer and your background in computer science gave you the ability to better assess the teams behind the projects you were investing in?
Cédric: I mean it definitely helped me to figure out if founders really understood what they were building. I believe that having a technical founder and founder-team increases the likelihood of the company succeeding if they’re building a company in tech space. I think it gave me interview skills to find that out and then B I often helped them to hire software developers. So I was usually one of the people interviewing candidates at the early stages. And that’s where definitely helped that I had built software products before.
Arthur: This follows into something a really great question I reckon or something I really like to get an answer to. That is, “When you say that do these founders really understand the products that they’re building, what do you think about blockchain projects? The founders of various blockchain projects and the ease with which they get capital. I mean you’re this very critical investor, probably a little bit harder to convince than the ICO investing public. You’re looking for competence and an understanding of the problem that is being addressed prior to investing, but the general public doesn’t apply that same kind of scrutiny to blockchain projects. So it seems to me like what it feels like a lot of naively conceived projects are receiving a ton of funding, but the founders of these projects or the seekers of this funding don’t really understand the problem that they typically solve. I mean is that a sentiment or a statement that you would agree with?
Cédric: I think it is hard to make generalizations but I think just because it’s been such a growing market, it’s been easy to attract capital over the past 18 to 24 months. I think that’s something that makes DFINITY so valuable is that we instead of focusing on marketing, we focused on building out the right team and building the actual technology and obviously Dom brought a lot of innovations to the space that I think are super valuable for our project. I think because we’ve blockchain and we’re still at a space or at a place where everything seems confusing and highly technical because there are no real applications yet.
It’s kind of if I asked you how do you send an email back in 1992, when there weren’t any great email clients and you had to explain to me how emails are put into chunks of code, and then these kind of bytes and bits are being sent through a modem to the BGP and reassembled. I think we’re at that stage now and that’s also very hard for me to understand if I just have as a short brief that I need to sit down and spend some time on a project. I think because of that and people often fall back to marketing and just talk about what eventually might be possible with that technology without talking about the technology. A lot of projects have raised money based on their marketing materials not their technology, which will see if it’s good or bad or how it’s going to work out. But it’s definitely I think that the space will change rapidly over the next two to five years.
DFINTIY Technological Advancements
Arthur: That being said, what are the technological advancements that you see as differentiating DFINITY personally? What in particular if there was one thing in particular that kind of resonates with you especially as an engineer, as an entrepreneur, as an investor? Is there one particular thing or how would you describe your reaction to DFINITY from those various perspectives?
Cédric: I think there are two key innovations that DFINITY makes – one is the consensus on the consensus layer, where I think Dom’s innovation is brilliant on how we achieve much quicker finality in shorter block time, and then second I think what’s very important is using WebAssembly on the application layer. So it will mean that we’ll get access to a much larger crowd of developers, because web developers are already used to using WebAssembly or are getting used to using WebAssembly right now. It also means certain portability between projects as more and more projects adopt WebAssembly as such standards.
Arthur: Anything else you think we should cover as long as we’ve got five cameras trained on us.
Cédric: No, I think that’s it. Well, one question for you. What do you think makes a great community event now that you’re going to go and travel and put on so many events? What’s the key recipe for everybody to make a great community event?
Arthur: The best thing about all the best community events are always events that have been put on by people, who are just purely passionate about the technology and invite their friends. Because there’s nothing better than actually having a social aspect to it and working through some material as a group rather than just being a person who stands up and talks at a crowd. It’s far better to be engaged in a conversation. It’s good to be challenged. It’s great to be asked questions that you can’t answer because that means you go back and you actually get to learn.
Cédric: You process and grow.
Arthur: Exactly. Just having a genuinely interested group of attendees and a genuinely interested community obviously is what makes a great community event. This trip through India is going to be spectacular especially because we’re visiting the IITs – the Indian Institutes of Technology. There are 23 of them, they’re essentially the ultimate filter that reduces this huge population, many of whom are phenomenally brilliant. The Indian people have the focus on getting their education through these specific institutions and there’s only a very small handful. So it’s the best of the best, it’s so competitive and the people who you meet at these IITs are just absolutely incredible. Then, you’re in India as well, which is just a world away from Palo Alto I can tell you.
Cédric: That’s true. Well, cool. Safe travels. Good luck.
Arthur: Likewise. Awesome.